One of my best friends succumbed to the ravages of cancer yesterday. Sophie was our eight-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog who thought she was two years old – until nine days ago when she became lethargic and wouldn’t eat. One of her many nicknames was Chubby, so not eating was a sign there was a major problem. We ran her to the vet and it turned out she had cancer. She declined rapidly and yesterday her liver shut down and she was done.
Sophie was a constant joy, my wife Robin always said Sophie was exuberant. Going from one side of the room to the other meant bounding, not walking. She always wanted to have a stuffed toy in her mouth. Her first one was a monkey, so after that she responded to any toy as her monkey. When she was trying to lick my face, I’d tell her to get her monkey, she’d run off and find a toy and bring it back and was then ready to lick again.
Anytime I needed a smile, all I had to do was say “Hey Sophie” and 80 pounds of dog would bounce over and the Sophie circus act would begin. She loved to sit on my foot and lean against me waiting to be petting, it is a Bernese Mountain Dog trait, but she took it to the next level. Sophie was always a puppy, she got bigger but always had an incredible innocence and love for life.
Sophie lived up to her Swiss heritage and loved the snow. She would run out in it, bounce around, eat it and plop in the deepest show she could find. In the summer it would be hard to get her out of the house, but she was in her glory in the winter. It was hard to get her to come in when the snow was deep.
She loved sitting on the couch with us as we watched TV. She didn’t lay on the couch, she sat. Right between Robin and me. She sat with her back resting on the back of the couch just like us. She’d wave her front paws around and try to get our attention. If we didn’t look at her to her she’d get frustrated and try some boxing. If that didn’t get sufficient attention she’d groan and growl until we looked at her. Most times she’d then look away and peek at us out of the corner of her eye. I’d blow on her when she was looking at Robin and she’d moan with frustration because I looked away before she spun around to look me. The game would last for a while until she would pounce on one of us demanding to be petted. But if a dog was on the TV, the game was paused while she watched and made little whines. One day she hopped off the couch and ran over to look behind the TV for the dog and looked puzzled when she couldn’t find it. After the dogs were off the screen, it was back to our peek a boo game.
Most mornings while I was in the shower Sophie and our other Berner Zian would be downstairs waiting for dogs to walk past the house. Sophie would start a high pitched howl and Zian would join in. Their longest song I recorded was 90 seconds, but they frequently sang longer than that.
It is going to be a quiet house now and we will miss her for a long time. We may someday get another dog but Sophie will never be replaced.
We lost one of the American great ones today – John Glenn. He was the first American to orbit the earth and the oldest man in space after going up in the Space Shuttle at age 77. He was a Marine fighter pilot flying 149 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War and was known as “Old Magnet Ass” because his plane was shot so many times and he kept it flying. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross six times.
To be a hero you have to be willing to sacrifice your life in a way that will benefit others. Hero gets tossed around too much, people many times do the right thing but if they don’t put their life on the line, they ain’t a hero. I heard a dog called a hero this week because it bit someone attacking its owner.
But Glenn was a hero, many times over. And a good guy.
He was a Senator from Ohio when I lived there in the ’80s and ran for President in 1984. I worked for a small daily newspaper and even though our circulation area was 50 miles from where Glenn lived, it was such a big story that we covered his presidential announcement. We were an afternoon paper and the event was scheduled for late morning, which meant we had time to get a story in that day’s paper and an AP photo. I talked the editor into sending me and I promised I have a print ready by noon from a 10 a.m. event that was 90 minutes away.
These were the days of film and we didn’t have a transmitter, so the only way the get the picture in the paper was to develop the film during the 90 minute drive back to Marietta. I arranged to use the newspaper’s circulation van and got one of their people to be my driver. I set up a film darkroom in the back of the utility van, I had a changing bag to load my film into a developing tank, the proper chemicals and rinse. I was ready. (more…)
I took my Meetup.com groups to Conowingo Dam in Darlington, MD, for a fun weekend of photographing bald eagles. The eagles gather at the dam to grab stunned fish that come through the generators. There are eagles that live in the area and many migrate south as it gets colder up north. At one point I counted 89 eagles sitting on the bank across the river and there were many more on an island and our side of the river.
Eagles sit in trees along the bank and then swoop down and grab fish out of the water. Then many times other eagles try to steal the fish and aerial battles ensue.
There are probably more photographers than eagles, it is an amazing the amount of big lenses in use. Canon Pro Services brought a ton of equipment for us to use. A special thanks goes to Tony Kurdzuk of Canon for bringing the equipment and helping our people with their photos. Also thanks to Paul Fishkin who provided us with Benro and Induro tripods and heads.
I came across an old photo today and all these years later it makes me feel as good as it did that day. I was lucky to work for the Associated Press at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. I worked the evening shift, so during the day I would go out and shoot around the Olympics. One day I got on the subway and headed out to a neighborhood away from the Olympics. It was a fairly poor area and it didn’t take long to realize not a lot of 6’2″ guys with blonde hair wandered their streets.
I noticed a young boy and girl walking across the the street from me and they were giggling and gawking at me. I waved to them and they waved back. It continued for a few blocks and they disappeared. I thought it was a pretty cool experience when the two appeared again. They came over to my side of the street and were carrying three ice cream cones, one for each of them and one for me. What a surprise!
It was one of the nicest gestures ever. We stood there eating our ice cream and laughing. I pointed to my camera to ask them if I could make a picture of them. They gladly posed, waved goodbye and headed off down a side street. I wished I was able to go to their house but at least I had a great memory and a nice photo. It was fun thinking about it again today.
While on my way back to N.J. after two art shows in Florida, I made a side trip to Charleston, S.C., to photograph the “super moon” tonight. The full moon won’t be this close to the earth until 2034, which means it looks larger than normal.
I usually like to shoot the full moon on the night before the actual full moon, it rises about an hour earlier, so there is still light in the foreground. But I had an art show yesterday and couldn’t get out to shoot, so my only choice was tonight.
I used a program called Photographer’s Ephemerist to pre-determine where the moon would rise behind a large fishing pier on Folly Beach. It blows my mind that I can sit at my computer or use the app on my iPhone and know where I need to be to line up the rising moon and the pier.
This weekend I have an art show in Pensacola, Florida, which is a long drive from New Jersey. Since 18 hours is too much for me to drive in one day, I looked on the map to find a place that was a little more than half way and came up with Knoxville, TN. Looking closer I saw there is a town named Kodak, so I had to look into that. It turns out that a postmaster in 1892 heard about the new Kodak camera and he thought it would be a good name for the village. He contacted Eastman Kodak Co. and George Eastman said OK. So here I am in Kodak!
I thought that it would be cool to hear Paul Simon sing Kodachrome on the radio as I pulled out. It came on an hour later, and yes, I was singing!
At Chittenden Reservoir in Vermont there is a pretty little island about 300 yards off shore. It is a favorite place for photographers and I’ve photographed it on many occasions at different times of day and different seasons. I decided to try it at night and use a large flashlight to illuminate the island using a technique called light painting, where you pass the light over the subject many times during a long exposure, I usually do 30 seconds. So tonight I started about 30 minutes after the sun went down and shot for the next hour. There was only a slight breeze which gave me the nice reflection on the water. Then I was lucky to have a shooting star which gave me a beautiful final touch. This is one exposure with only minor adjustments in Lightroom. As the sky got darker I needed to bump my ISO up to 400 and I was shooting at f/5.6.
We headed north today during my Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop, to check out the area around Groton and Peacham, which has some of the best scenery in Vermont. There are a couple of ponds in Groton State Park that are amazingly scenic and they didn’t let us down. I’ve been there when the color was better but we still made some nice photos.
One thing that always strikes me about Vermont is how welcoming the people are. While in Peacham we were photographing around a church and a neighbor came out to show us some wild turkeys walking through his field toward us. Peacham gets tons out of town photographers and I’m sure many walk through this guy’s fields without thinking that they may be stomping on a fence, but he invited us come into yard to photograph his cows and the approaching turkeys.
While in Peacham, workshopper Steve Minden took a fun picture of me in the town’s information booth.
Later today is the start of my annual Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop, which I run out of my house in Woodstock.
I’m lucky that this year I have a couple of professional photographer friends who are joining me for part of the week. This morning Ron Lake arrived from his Connecticut home. Ron and I did a workshop together this summer in Tuscany, Italy, and next summer we are leading a workshop in Provence, France.
Ron got here early so we’d have a little time to shoot before the workshop started. We went over to a lovely grove of birch trees in the next town east of Woodstock. I’ve been there many times and it always looks different. This time there were beautiful little purple flowers growing throughout the grove. Ron was mesmerized by the combination of white birch trees, green grass and purple flowers. We spent a couple of hours shooting and Ron was wanted to stay longer but we had to get back to make final preparations for the workshop. It was fun getting there and shooting with a friend.
Today was the last day of a great Tuscany photo workshop. It was a long, hot week in Italy filled with great memories, making new friends, eating wonderful food and photographing spectacular scenes.
Tuscany is known for its light and it didn’t disappoint, we were out at sunrise and stayed up late shooting the Milky Way. We covered lots of territory, saw medieval towns with amazing buildings, rolling hills in the countryside covered with wheat and rolls of straw cut after wheat was harvested, vineyards and, my favorite, the cypress trees.
I love making beautiful landscape photos and I was lucky enough to get some decent shots. I also enjoy photographing people and the Italians were gracious when I asked them if I could make a picture of them. They weren’t so polite when driving a car but they always gave me a tender smile when I pointed at my camera and aimed it at them.
Some of my favorite photos are in the slideshow, I hope you enjoy them.
I was out in a stand of birch trees as the sun came up this morning and thinking about how wonderful it is to be standing in a Vermont forest, hearing only birds chirping and bees buzzing. I was surrounded by beautiful white trees reaching for the blue sky as their leaves as just starting to fully appear.
I have been to this spot many times, the trees look pretty much the same at every visit but the pictures are always different. As the sun was first starting to stream through the trees, I wasn’t seeing any pictures better than what I have shot before. I walking around for about 30 minutes looking for different angles, trying to see something I hadn’t before. With all these trees and beauty, I know there are always unique images to be made.
Finally I got some vision. Things starting falling in line and I shot lots of scenes. None of them excited me as much as Thursday’s birches at the pond, but they were fun pictures. I worked the angles on a large tree with two leaning trees behind it.
As I moved to find another subject, a bright orange flash flew through the air. I was startled by the sudden burst of color and looked to see where it went and what was. A Baltimore oriole landed on a tree nearby. I’m not a birder, but I was a baseball fan as a kid and I recognized the bird from their logo. I watched as the bird flew to another branch, the orange color brightly on display. Another oriole joined it and they flitted around a little and flew away.
I thought about running to the car to get my big telephoto lens so I could get a closer shot of the birds. Then I decided to just enjoy the show and not worry about working for a few minutes. It was quite a show.
Now that I am back home after flying all day yesterday, I can take a good look at my photos from the trip and think about all the wonderful things I saw and people I met during my workshop in Guatemala. I can’t thank Edgar Monzon enough for putting us in great locations, driving us around, showing me how he connects with people on the street and for helping me get a new passport. Edgar worked hard to set up the trip and it showed, his arrangements were flawless, the hotels and meals were great. Edgar is a special person and I’m happy to be able to call him a friend.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, mainly due to the people. Most of them don’t have much money, many live in pure poverty but as Edgar says they might not be rich with money but they are rich with happiness. They greet each other, and us, on the street and seem to have a special spirit.
I put together a selection of photos below, I hope you enjoy them.
Like I said yesterday, the people of Guatemala are very friendly, except for that one guy whole stole my passport wallet, which, yes, had my passport, a couple of credit cards and some cash.
It happened Sunday morning while on the streets during the procession. I had a large passport wallet in my front pocket but it must have been sticking out some. We were wading through people elbow to elbow, so it got pulled while I was in the crowd. I noticed it was missing when I got back to the hotel but I thought I must have left it at Edgar’s condo. I contacted him and since we were going to be back near his condo yesterday, I didn’t worry about it until last night when we couldn’t find it there.
So I spent some time online to find out what I needed to do. I’d never lost my passport before and had no idea what to do. Fortunately there are benefits to being American and the State Department is one of them. I needed to fill out a couple of forms online, print them and go to the U.S. embassy back in Guatemala City, 90 minutes away. I planned on taking a taxi but Edgar wouldn’t let me. His daughter drove down this morning and took me to the embassy while Edgar guided the rest of the workshop in Antigua.
Today we traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, a beautiful town hidden behind walls. All the streets are cobblestone and as your car bounces along, you mainly see walls, most of which look like they need paint. But behind the walls are amazing things, like our hotel, Casa Santo Domingo. It is a former convent and features ruins from hundreds of years ago. The 128 rooms are each unique and you’d never know you at a hotel as you walk the grounds, which is several acres. A truly hidden gem.
Antigua is one of Guatemala’s most visited cities by tourists, but it doesn’t have a tourist feel. There are many beautiful hotels hiding behind the walls and we ate at a couple of special places during our stay.
We walked around the town and went to Ruinas de Capuchinas, which are large ruins that are incredibly photogenic. Wandering around the multiple levels, it is hard to imagine how this was built hundreds of years ago and could still be standing. It featured incredibly arches and a large domed room that was architecturally astounding.
The people of Guatemala are incredibly friendly. And it’s not because we are tourists with cameras. I watch them greet each other on the street, everyone says “buenos dias” to each person they pass. It is part of their culture and is fun to see and be around. Edgar has a unique ability to make each person he photographs feel special. I noticed the first thing he does is ask them their name and he tells them his. He makes a connection right away. Two little girls on the street were selling trinkets for pennies and Edgar asked one if he could photograph her. Of course, she was excited. Then Edgar noticed the other girl feeling left out, so he got her in some shots too. They all were excited.
After a great dinner at the hotel, we did some light painting on the hotel grounds. It is fun to light up the old buildings with a flashlight and see what happens.
Tomorrow is another adventure.
Edgar and I got up early and went to a large procession in a village not far from his condo. I have seen small processions in Hispanic communities in the U.S., but nothing like the way they do it in Guatemala. The procession is part of the Catholic’s Holy Week celebrations but on a scale I couldn’t imagine.
First, people stay up all night decorating the streets. I don’t mean hanging flags or banners along the street, they make intricate carpets in the narrow streets where the procession will go. They use fruit, vegetables and other plants to make beautiful displays on the street. But the most amazing is what they do with sawdust. They dye it in bright colors and spend hours, literally not sleeping all night, to do amazing artwork on the street. There are miles of these carpets and then they are destroyed as the procession walks over them.
The procession itself is hard to explain. Men carry a large platform that has statues of Jesus during the crucifixion through the narrow streets. The platform they were carrying is larger than a semi-trailer and looks like it weighs as much as a loaded one. They had 40 men on each side of the platform and they could only carry it a few blocks before they needed to change carriers. The grimace on their faces told me they were struggling under the weight. They walked in unison so the platform would gently rock side-to-side in rhythm as they slowly moved down the cobblestone streets. Other men with long poles lifted power lines so the statues wouldn’t get snagged. Making the turns on the narrow streets was a feat in itself, they barely fit around the corners. They procession lasts about 12 hours as they slowly wind through the village. Nearly a million people pack the streets, making it nearly impossible to move.
We could only stay a couple of hours because we needed to get back to Guatemala City to meet the other workshop participants. This is one event I’ll come back and document right. Especially since Edgar said there are even larger ones during Holy Week.